This is the second disc for Capriccio by the mainly-German Signum
Quartet. It follows a well-received recital of String Quartets
by the underrated Austrian composer Ludwig Thuille in 2010 (C5049).
This is not the first time that a young string quartet has put
together a programme of what is known in German, and sometimes
English, as Quartettsätze - string quartets confined
by their creator, by design or otherwise, to a single movement.
Only last year, for example, the Belgian Quatuor Alfama released
their own 'Quartettsatz' CD on Fuga Libera - see review.
Both discs open with Hugo Wolf's sunny, celebrated 'Italian'
Serenade, and both include Anton Webern's hauntingly beautiful
Langsamer Satz ('Slow Movement'). The Alfama recital included
a couple of surprise treats for the listener, youthful pieces
not typical of the later, famous master: Rachmaninov's Romance
in G minor and Schoenberg's Schubertian Presto in C. The Signums
have their own equivalent here that may even upstage those:
Carl Orff's op.22. As with Webern or Puccini, Orff's teenage
work bears little resemblance to the music he later became known
for - he wavers almost delicately between Romanticism and Impressionism,
only later to discover a completely different voice. The booklet
does not say, but this appears to be the work's first ever recording
- in which case, something of a coup for the Signum.
Wolfgang Rihm's own Quartettsatz is actually a full quartet,
his Ninth. According to the notes, Rihm makes allusions in it
to Schubert's Quartettsatz, although for most listeners it will
prove a considerably more aurally challenging work, and a case
of taking the composer's word for it! Nonetheless, it is a typically
imaginative, episodic, invigorating piece full of late 20th-century
drama and sound which the Signum Quartet, who have performed
it in concert on several occasions, navigate with great panache.
They compare favourably with the reading of another German quartet,
the Minguet, available on volume 3 of their valuable recording
of Rihm's complete Quartets (Col Legno 20213, 2005). For comparison,
if that is the word, the Signums follow Rihm with Schubert's
glorious Allegro assai in C minor, D.703, the founding father
- and possibly crowning jewel - of the genre.
Like the Schubert, the works by Puccini, Wolf and Webern have
all been recorded dozens of times, affording the discerning
listener immense choice. Yet the Signum Quartet are first-rate
company for all their competition, playing with passion and
intelligence, as well as terrific attention to detail in the
score and to each other. There is a depth and maturity to their
interpretations which does full justice to the poignancy and
intensity of pieces like Crisantemi and the Webern and to the
power and virtuosity of the Rihm and the Ives.
Sound quality in this studio recording is very good. The German-English
booklet is fairly informative, although the translation has
been done by a native German-speaker, competently in general
but leaving numerous phrases and even long sentences with a
decidedly foreign accent.
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